Monday, 13 November 2017

For Montgenevre

Around November the air starts to smell crisp and cold, and it always reminds me of the year I ran away. 
I was a bit lost, passively heading towards the end of my job contract, not wanting to renew it but also unsure what should come next.
 
Someone passed on my name and before I knew it I'd had a phone conversation with a woman I had never met, and agreed a day. I found a replacement for my house share, packed my bags and got on a plane. When I arrived in the ski resort it was cold but the snow was yet to arrive.

The anticipation hung heavy in the air, a normal mountain village waiting waiting waiting for the magic to arrive. Advent is like this. waiting waiting waiting for the saviour to come and renew us once again.

waiting for hope waiting for purification.

When the snow finally came the excitement was palpable, people gearing up for the season, lift passes and freshly waxed skis, there was a feeling that anything could happen. Overnight the village became a winter paradise all trace of the banal gone under the spectacular white coat. The mountains took on a blinding new beauty.

It was the tenth of December when the snow fell that year.

By March it was melting, much too early, running in dirty rivulets down the chalet drainpipes.
By March my heart would be broken, my face bruised and I would be longing for home.
But I couldn't know that. Not then.
It was early December, and I was poised; ready for it all.

This is the feeling which comes back to me every year at this time. the feeling of a great adventure just around the corner. A chance to rewrite who I might become.

I came back from that time a sadder, wiser, stronger person. This has become synonymous in my heart with the season of advent, hope and uncertainty, sudden joy and the significance of a time of great change.

I recently found this piece of writing about Montgenevre that I wrote the following year but never shared;

Sometimes the remembering hurts.
It can double me over, this longing to be back where I was daily soaked in beauty, inhaling it with every breath until it was reflected in my own eyes, my own skin.

Time worked in strange ways those winter months; I shared a tiny bedroom and sat freezing for hours in the roof of the little wishing well for just a bit of stolen space.

The people around me were beautiful and hurting, escaping and making for themselves a life, of sorts. I think that they were boldly hiding. The longing for something more, thick on their breath in the icy air.

I don’t know whether it was the season, or the romance promised in every clear and starry night, but I fell so hopelessly in love and was badly hurt, sobbing into my worn sheets. 
But there was healing also to be found, like the day that I cast off loneliness, dressed up in a ridiculous sunshine yellow ski suit and paraded through the town to make a friend smile. 

and in the freedom, oh the boundless freedom of the steeps and slides of the mountain slopes. The recollection of flying down through the untouched snow with the wind in my hair and joy so full in my wild heart will stay with me ever long.

Those days were so precious. I can still see myself waking up with the dawn, putting mittens on my chapped and weary hands.Walking across the snow to work, eyes, which should have been bleary but instead were wide and alive with wonder,

Captivated, by the God of the Mountains.



Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Mad Life

Right now everything is a bit crazy.

My life feels like one of those confusing riddles where you need to get the cat the crocodile and the tin of cat food to the other side of the pond in the boat in two trips without any casualties, except with a baby and a toddler rather than carnivorous animals, (so not too much of a difference there then!)

I have to think so hard about the most basic of things because I cant leave Clara alone with Sylvie, so at any given moment I am carting one or both of them along to wherever it is I need to go to (toilet, car to get the buggy, etc.) I’ve never been so grateful for having such a tiny house, as whilst sitting on the loo when I have a clear line of sight through the kitchen and the reception rooms straight to the front door, handy!

Honestly most days my sanity hangs in the balance and the name of that balance is

Nap time.

Generally the girls have a precious 45 mins of lovely nap crossover which enables me to rush around like a crazy person completing the bare minimum of household tasks before collapsing in front of the TV with a Jaffa cake (or 12) before one of them wakes up and the relentlessness begins again.

The sheer effort to get the three of us dressed and out of the house is mind boggling. So much so that by the end of the day it is not an exaggeration to say that I feel totally wrecked, from my aching back to my dry skin.

We are massively lucky that both girls are in bed by 7 most nights so we do have the evenings to ourselves but generally I’m in bed by 9:30 to cope with the broken sleep that comes with night feeding and those two and a half hours sure do fly…!

When Claras finally asleep and I’m giving Sylvie a cuddle and a feed, really looking into her lovely little face for what feels the first time all day I have a mix of total joy and guilt. When Clara was this age I feel like I watched her every move and planned special activities for her development.

With Sylvie I barely do more than glance at her or send up a quick prayer of thanks that she’s chilling on the bouncer not making any fuss so I can get on with chasing or placating the (seemingly insatiable) toddler.

The wonderful saving grace of this craziness is breastfeeding. It truly forces me to stop and slow down, and engage with my beautiful second born girl. I wrote a little poem reflecting on this recently…

Autumn Sun streams through the window
and her cheeks move rhymically in and out,
milk
Love
milk
Love
milk
Love

it stops me in my busy tracks, this act of life,
enforces the connecting thread between us.

her eyes are narrowed against the sun as she neatly does the work that all babies have done

since the beginning of time.

some days I will her to be finished before shes even started to claim back this part of myself

other days I savour every second and know it for the joy it can be.

it's mundane and it's magic this thing, hard and holy.


Generally Clara likes to get as close as possible when i'm feeding Sylvie!!






Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Toddler

She pushes and she pulls 


the world is open for business and she wants it all.

Strong; because it hasnt occurred to her to be anything else quite yet,

Fragile; this child is made of human and she hasn't learned how to mask it.

Fraustrated; shes thwarted and her back is arched, she shouts her fury loud twisting in her wrath.


Brave; eyes big, next thing in her sights, head first leaping into thin air.


Silly; a keen sense for the ridiculous already,  tights on her head rushing around shouting and trailing blessed laughter in her wake. 

Bright; Lit up with all the new information shes processing every day, scrutinizing every leaf and stone for hidden meaning.










Independant and so very needy, a perfect contradiction with my eyes and his mouth, his sense of humour, my stubbornness and so much that belongs only to her. 

Clara has accelerated into toddlerhood since Sylvie arrived. Sometimes shes so big and beautiful and clever that I can't stand it. 




During those moments I think I'll explode with the sheer force of pride for every new word, every independent step she makes into the world, every time she chooses to wrap her chubby arms round my neck when she could be doing something else.

and then there are the other toddler moments,

The dark ones.

The times when she goes stiff as a board and screams her lungs out in the library because I've tried to put her in the pushchair.

Or when she hits her baby sister then looks at me agog for my response.

Even the times she wakes from her nap and cries inconsolably for half an hour regardless of everything I do to try and make it better.

Those times I feel hot shame and fraustration at how little I can really control this person that we have made and nurtured .

She is making the moves towards independence, there's no mistaking it. Shes bold this daughter of mine, she asks for what she wants in life (okay sometimes she screams for it!) It's scary and wonderful watching her become who shes going to be, sometimes I feel utterly helpless in the face of a person so separate to me and yet still so dependant. 


for the first time since she was born I've really questioned myself with how I'm responding to her behaviour, I'm aware that these are the moments that can mark a person emotionally and I want so much to parent her well. 


I'm discovering that being a parent to a toddler really brings me to the end of myself. I could weep with fraustration and then circle all the way back to rapturous joy again, sometimes all in the space of ten minutes!
                                                     
Though I believe that strong boundaries are very important I also have to recognise that she is beginning to make her own decisions, and these need a certain amount of respect. Shes testing the waters in every sense and she needs the space to do that, though she also needs 
to learn that actions have consequences. 

It's so tempting to want to control a toddler but  I am learning that she needs me to have the strength to step back sometimes, to let her be herself. Of course to still say 'No' when I need too but also for that to not be the only thing that I'm conveying to her. 

So there you have it, these are my days at the moment, silliness and kisses, fun and tantrums; Clara Evangeline in all her wonderful, frustrating complexity. 
                                             

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Sylvie Joy


Sylvie Joy is here! She arrived on the 14th of July and she is a delight complete with dark curly hair and dimples (!)

Sylvie means 'From the woods' and of course Joy is self explanatory. It seems to suit her which is a relief as Matt and I tend to take a LONG time to agree on names!

As I write Sylvie is snuggled up on my chest, her favourite place to sleep, I am shattered from feeding her every couple of hours at night then having to find the energy the next day to play with Clara, but it's also a lot of fun.

Speaking of the toddler, she is taking it all like a champion. Obviously she is internally processing the huge changes that a new sibling brings, this has come out in the occasional tantrum and even a few attempts to hit her baby sis.






 But generally she really seems to love Sylvie, she dashes into our room shouting 'BUBUB' every morning and wants to cover her in kisses all.the.time.  


Sylvie came into the world in a delightfully uncomplicated way;

I started to have contractions at midnight on the 13th and refused to go to hospital until about 5am as I wasn't sure that they were real as they didn't hurt very much and weren't very long. I had a long bath and lit some candles.

 By 5am Matt wanted to head in and so we called a friend to watch the (still sleeping) Clara and headed into the maternity hospital, using the tens machine for a bit of pain relief.
When we got there I was examined straight away and they told me that I was already 8cm dilated, she could feel that the waters were about to go and told me 'This baby will be here very soon!' 

I obviously didn't believe her in the slightest and asked about the possibility of an epidural which me and Matt had previously agreed was a good idea given that we no were no longer under any illusions about how bloody painful childbirth is!! 

I was assured that there was no need as baby would be here so soon, so I suspiciously agreed to stay on in the midwife led unit with the promise of gas and air (lovely).
As it happened the midwife knew what she was talking about and after only a couple of contractions pushing on the birth ball my waters went, I still can't believe how easy this part of labour was compared to my labour with Clara, the contractions were shorter and less painful but obviously way more efficient - crazy. 

The midwife then got me to lie on the bed to push as we were trying to avoid a similar tear to the one I had last time. 

Pushing still hurt like all hell (obviously) this was not helped when my gas and air was confiscated as I had become a bit obsessed! Soo I birthed that childs head fully conscious and very much in the room,

Ouch. 

However there was a lot less screaming than last time and generally I felt very calm and a lot more present. It also helped that I was only pushing for half an hour before little Sylvie Joy emerged; 7lbs 11oz of squirmy real person.



Wow.    

                      
I had forgotten the way that a brand new human smells after they are placed naked and bloody on your chest, world startled and umblically bound. The scent of the womb, strangely earthy, weirdly familiar, all darkness and growth. To me, in that moment it was the smell of relief. In the days following the birth I could still recall it but now two weeks on Its going all misty. 

I had a second degree tear so had a painful hour or so getting examined and stitched up, but I was rewarded with a shower, toast and tea as Sylvie figured out breastfeeding. It was a rather lovely afternoon. Then we were discharged and got home in time for Claras bedtime! 

                                       
So there you have it! Another person in the world. And what a precious person she is. I am very much looking forward to getting to know her as she becomes who shes going to be :)


                                             

                                   






Thursday, 22 June 2017

Life Happening All Around

The Gang
It's been a bit busy recently.

It was a short term, finished with final exams for Matt (he got a 2:1, clever boy!)

The day term ended we came down to Shropshire for a two week church placement. Brilliant experience for Matt but again very busy with a commute and working at the weekend.

We've been staying at my parents and I hosted 25 wonderful old friends last weekend, including room prep and catering. this coming weekend we are doing it all again for an extended family reunion.

Initially we had planned to book in a couple of nights away just the two of us before the baby arrived but as time had moved forwards, the schedule has become more squeezed and the baby has become more imminent, we've had to let go of the notion. So no 'Baby Moon' for us.
Clara is wonderful and full on, doing wobbly Bambi walking and with 2 new molars making themselves felt, and as if it wasn't busy enough Matt has a meeting with the bishop on Monday morning! Currently where he goes I follow because I don't want to get stuck up labour creek without a birth partner, so we're off to Doncaster en famile. 
Did I also mention that I am tired? Tired in an almost done making a baby, and still carrying around the other one bone shatteringly exhausted kind of way.

So we will finally head back to Cambridge on Monday where (hopefully!) We will have a little time before the arrival to readjust and do nothing.

But despite all of this craziness I wanted to share about some of the Grace, rest and cause for celebration in the spaces around me that I have loved in this time. 
The beautiful countryside here is a rest for my eyes and ears. Trees rivers cows and the incredible views all bring me so much joy.

The old friends its a been a privilege to catch up with. Also my best friend delivered a gorgeous baby boy last week and my heart is so full for their family.

The river is a beautiful cooling space where Clara and I have both found wonder. My sister in law even spotted an otter this past weekend!

The space to have my first haircut in a year while mum watched Clara.

Finally Dad put up some hammocks in a shady spot and this evening after Clara had gone to bed as I eased me and my wriggly bump into one of them I was able to completely relax for a while. Leafy chapel over my head peace in my heart and a merciful river breeze to cool me.

I have chosen to take that one moment of peace in exchange for a million frantic ones. I think that restoration comes in these smallest of small moments and should not be missed.

I can't take it back to Cambridge with me (hammock in the birth plan anyone?!) But will try and keep this peace as we go. 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Retreat

This past week I Travelled up to Stirling in Scotland to visit one of my oldest and best friends. She is due her first baby in June almost exactly a month before my little squidge so life is about to get a bit more hectic! Matt thoughtfully arranged the visit as an early birthday present for me, so we could enjoy some retreat time together.

how could I possibly
leave this buttercup destroying angel?! :p
I was very ready for some solo time, but as the plane took off I realised that I had some serious reservations. I knew Clara was being expertly looked after by her grandparents and Matt was available if needed, but this was my baby, without me for the first time in her whole life! It was a very weird feeling.  

Becoming a mother and spending a year as that babys primary caregiver changes you. It necessitates a complete shift in how you perceive and define yourself. This isn’t a bad thing but it is possible to loose sight of who you are in amidst all the changes. 

I think some time away from the baby is an essential part of establishing healthy boundaries and retaining an identity outside of motherhood.

So with this in mind I managed to quell my irrational desire to exit the plane post haste and hurry back to my baby, which was just as well because both her and me had the time of our lives! She had the undivided attention of her devoted Grandparents and didn’t so much as whimper the 2 days I was gone. 

Meanwhile I had the luxurious opportunity to have (many) uninterrupted conversations, lounge in the sunshine, and enjoy at least one night of uninterrupted sleep! Matt even booked for Emma and I to go on retreat to this amazing centre….


Time to think and pray and journal was so welcome and the heated indoor pool we had to ourselves for the afternoon certainly didn’t hurt!

 As I was praying and chatting with Emma I kept being drawn back to the idea of who I am in this season of life, its easy to feel overwhelmed and I found myself feeling pretty tearful as I considered the reality and responsibility of having two kids so close in age. I wrote this poem which ended up being a great starting point for more reflection..


 I am constant vigilance,
I am the ears in the night,
the eyes in the day, 

I am provider of needs,
Port for the storms
Cocoon for the unborn.

Counter of kicks, hics and sticking out bits,
I am planner, pre-empter and worse case cuddler.

I am exhausted,

I am mother.

At first I couldn’t read it back through without feeling overwhelmed and tearful, but I felt like God was challenging me to read it back to myself out loud several times over. By the fifth or sixth time I read through what I had written my perspective had a totally changed! 

I felt like it became a direct revelation of the mother heart of God, a clear picture that I am not alone on this journey of motherhood but that he enters into it wholeheartedly with us. He too is creator and therefore mother.

Who are you in this season God?

I am constant vigilance,
I am the ears in the night,
the eyes in the day, 

I am provider of needs,
Port for the storms
Cocoon for the unborn.

Counter of kicks, hics and sticking out bits,
I am planner, pre-empter and worse case cuddler.

I am God,

I am mother.


I will end with some pictures of me and Emmie. We are friends who have journeyed together for a very long time in all sorts of different circumstances. There is no sweeter balm than the laughter that old friends share and I am always refreshed and inspired in her company. I am so proud of who she is now as she juggles all the complexities of writing up her PHD and engages with impending motherhood. What a joy it is to share this journey with her.  




              

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

One

Well this joyous wonderful complicated and amazing girl of mine is a year old today!


I am an incredibly biased parent and could write pages on her many remarkable attributes and about what an unbelievably fantastic and devastatingly hard year this has been,

However as I remember this time a year ago I thought it might be good to share her birth story.
We have just started the new series of MasterChef, this time last year it had become something of an obsession with Matt and I as we patiently awaited those first pangs of labour….

Clara was eight days late, I had hoped for a prompt arrival and was starting to get a bit annoyed so sweet and much needed distraction came in the form of MasterChef. We watched completely agog as the amateur chefs created sumptuous dishes to impress the judges, Matt had the sofa to himself as I was confined to the purgatory of bouncing on a bright pink ball in the hopes of coaxing labour out of its shell.

I remember reflecting on the weirdness of the birth process, of feeling so fed up with being huge that you begin to will your body to cause you enormous pain, there was an almost addictive mix of Adrenalin, excitement and fear as I pictured what was to come.

On the 9th April we had driven out to the beautiful American Cemetery on the outskirts of Cambridge as I had heard a rumour that it had steps – I cut a strange figure that day as I walked up and down among the gravestones 30 or so times willing the activity to get the baby moving.

So when nothing had happened two days later I was pretty sure that the baby had decided to stay on the inside forever, but at 2pm on the 11th April I started getting regular contractions like some kind of uncomfortable miracle!

It was fairly non painful at this point, standard waves of period like pain. We called my mum as I was keen she was around for the birth and she had a few hours to drive to get to us. A memorable moment was some charity collectors coming to the door midway through a contraction – Not now – my wife is in labour! proved an extremely effective deterrent.

I used the famous pink ball to brace myself against also a TENS machine and a hot water bottle which seemed to work quite nicely.

As I was easing into the bath I felt like my waters had broken and we made a hilarious and slightly hysterical call to the midwifery unit – later on (much later) when they finally did break we really laughed that we had thought that was it.

Mum arrived and we had some food and headed to bed. I didn’t really sleep mainly because I was so excited and at around 2am my contractions were close enough together that we called the unit and headed into the hospital.

The midwife showed us to a room but suggested that Matt and I go and find some indoor stairs to walk up and down to get things moving – (because we all know how easy it is to climb stairs whilst attached at the hip to a giant pink birthing ball!!) the unit was deserted and at one point a porter casually cycled past on his way somewhere, only in Cambridge would the porters cycle inside a hospital!

I was contracting mainly on my knees braced against the ball so by 7:am I was keen for a change and asked to get into the birthing pool in our room. This was lovely, over the next few hours the contractions ramped up a gear and I was doing some nice breathing and visualising all sorts of random things like trains in tunnels and waves on beaches – Matt thought I was loosing it but it seemed to help. I was also plied with iced tea and multigrain bars for energy.

At around 9:00am I asked to try the gas and air which I liked…a lot. It didn’t take the pain away as much as take me away from the pain. During this time I thought Matt was the most hilarious person on the planet, which did his ego a world of good.

By around 11:00 the midwife was keen to examine me for the first time (the Rosie birth center where I gave birth has a very hands off approach) so I came out of the water and lay on the bed.
This was when things got real.

I started having big mean angry contractions and my waters literally EXPLODED forth from me (Matt was down the business end and got soaked) so I guess this is the point they would call transition – I certainly transitioned from a calm and collected earth mama into a screaming banshee.
I think the position on my back probably didn’t help but the pain meant I couldn’t even think about moving. The Gas and air became a constant companion as the contractions reached a new level.

I was screaming mindlessly through each contraction. I couldn’t control this noise and it didn’t really feel like me at all. This was pretty terrifying but at some point I became aware that my body was doing what it was meant to be doing and that somehow all that noise was helping to get my baby out.

This is the bit that I don’t like to remember particularly as it felt indeterminable even though it was in reality about an hour or so. I couldn't believe how painful these contractions were, truly nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the agony. During this phase Matt was amazing he seemed to know exactly what I needed and I remember bracing my legs on his shoulder during the contractions.

By this point I had been awake for 24 hours and was totally exhausted. The midwife said it was time to push and invited me onto all fours, I almost sobbed at the very notion as my body felt like it had been through a war and I wasn’t sure it was capable of such heights any more. But I really wanted it all to be over so I dutifully dragged myself up and started the pushing process.

Cue loads of excitement from mum, Matt and the midwife who could all see what was going on and less excitement from me who could certainly FEEL a lot but didn’t have the foggiest what was happening!

It was odd to feel slightly excluded from something that was happening so directly to me.
I must have been pushing for about two hours, it takes a surprisingly long time to get that head down the birth canal! She kept coming down then heading back up again, but eventually with the traditional ‘ring of fire’ feeling (otherwise known as pooing a brick) Clara’s head was born, at exactly 1:55pm on the 12th April.

 In that second she started to cry and for a moment she was just a little crying head! I obviously couldn’t see this but can picture it clearly as it is such a funny image, I was feeling sheer relief after the crazy pain of birthing her head. Then the rest of her wriggled out and she was spellbindingly wonderfully real, straight on to my chest where I drank her all in.

So there you have it folks, it was a wonderful, painful as hell, straightforward natural birth.

(I did also sustain a horrible, unlucky 3c tear in the birthing process. That's another story and doesn’t really have a place in this post, so for now I will pause the scene right there)

The midwife asks ‘would dad like to cut the cord?’ dad politely declines looking a little green while nearby a tearful grandmother falls head over heals for her only daughters daughter.

And as for me, well I’m just peachy. My beautiful girl is nestled on my chest, her face is somehow both brand new and entirely familiar, she takes to my breast like a seasoned professional when my mum latches her on. My body sighs into an ‘ah-ha’ moment as I make that seismic change into mother.


What a moment.